Updated: Sep 16
Making the Sign of the Cross can be very controversial within some Christian circles. Some see it as a rote gesture that holds no meaning or a superstitious act that is done to ward away evil. Others cherish its rich symbolism and spiritual significance. Today, I'd love for us to put aside any prejudices we might have or a lack of understanding and delve into the meaning of the Sign of the Cross, looking at its roots in the early Church and exploring its relevance and importance in our lives.
The cross holds profound significance for Christians. At its core, it represents the central message of Christianity—redemption and salvation. Christians believe that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was crucified on the cross to atone for humanity's sins. His death on the cross is seen as the ultimate act of love and sacrifice, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him.
In our rich history of Christian traditions, there exists a simple yet profound act that unites believers across denominations and centuries—the Sign of the Cross. It is an ancient Christian practice of marking the shape of the cross of Christ upon one’s self or upon another person or object. It is usually accompanied by the words, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
This universal gesture, often made casually and frequently, bears a history rich with significance. In this post, let's delve into the origins, meanings, and enduring relevance of the Sign of the Cross, seeking to understand why this ancient practice continues to hold a special place in the hearts of believers.
The Origin of the Sign
To grasp the essence of the Sign of the Cross, we must journey back to the earliest days of Christianity. It was in those formative years, amidst the trials and tribulations faced by early Christians, that this sign emerged as a symbol of faith and a source of strength.
Historians believe that the Sign of the Cross began as a simple marking of one's forehead with the thumb, a practice dating back to the second century. This act was a clandestine identifier for Christians in a hostile Roman world. A subtle, yet powerful declaration of their allegiance to Christ, it was not only a courageous act of defiance against the prevailing pagan beliefs but also a sign of kinship amongst fellow believers.
As centuries passed and Christianity gained acceptance, this symbol evolved into the sign we know today—a cross traced over one's body. This simple motion became an embodiment of Christian identity, sanctification, and a visible affirmation of the belief in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Profound Meaning
The Sign of the Cross encapsulates the core beliefs of Christianity. As fingers move from forehead to chest, then from one shoulder to the other, the power of the Holy Trinity is invoked. The Father, the Creator of all things; the Son, who redeemed humanity through the cross; and the Holy Spirit, our divine guide and comforter, are all invoked in this simple, sacred gesture.
The Sign of the Cross is also a sign of sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which a Christian is made holy and set apart for God's purposes. Through the sign of the cross, we are reminding ourselves with our bodies that we are being made holy and that we are setting ourselves apart for God's purposes. You will often see Christians sign themselves before communion, or as the Gospel is read. You will see the priest sign the entire congregation or a person's forehead at baptism. This is all done to set something apart as holy.
The Sign of the Cross is also a profound reminder of Christ's sacrifice. When we make this sign, we recall His crucifixion—the ultimate act of love and redemption. It's a tangible, physical connection to the very heart of Christianity.
Why We Should Continue
In today's fast-paced world, the Sign of the Cross may appear as a fleeting, rote gesture. However, its significance remains timeless. In making this sign, we reassert our faith, expressing our trust in the triune God, reminding ourselves of our sanctification, and remembering Christ's sacrifice for us.
Furthermore, this practice grounds us amidst the chaos of life. It invites us to pause, even if for a brief moment, and connect with God. It's a spiritual reset button, a reminder of what truly matters.
So, as we celebrate Holy Cross Day, let us not forget the power of the Sign of the Cross. It's a beautiful tradition that transcends time and space, connecting us with the countless believers who have gone before us. In this simple act, we find unity, strength, and a profound affirmation of our Christian faith.